Blog: Honoring African-American history in Fort Wayne’s own backyard

When it comes to African-American history, it is easy to celebrate nationally recognized names. But as a lifelong Fort Wayne resident, I’d like to encourage you to look at the lives and legacies of historical figures who have roots in our own community.
 
I’ve had the privilege of being taught, coached, and developed by one of Fort Wayne’s own great history makers in the family I married into: My grandfather, Dr. Oscar J. Nelson Dowdell-Underwood, Ph.D. As Black History Month draws to a close, I’d like to invite you to keep learning about and honoring the Black history made here, and Dowdell-Underwood’s legacy is a great place to start.
Portrait of Dr. Oscar J. Nelson Dowdell-Underwood, Ph.D.
From a young boy growing up in Fort Wayne and graduating from Central High School, Dowdell-Underwood had a dream that would not only change his life, but also impact humanity forever. His dream was to live a life where he could use his God-given potential to help others discover their true potential and purposes in life. He accomplished this first as a student and a teacher himself.
 
In his own education, Dowdell-Underwood set an example for his students. He earned a B.S. in Elementary Education and an M.S. in Educational Administration and Curriculum Development from Indiana University. He also has a Ph.D. and Ed.S in Higher Education Leadership, Administration and Foundations from Indiana State University, and a Ph.D. in Human Potential Coaching from Cornerstone Christian Bible College International. These combined educational experiences have shaped his ongoing work and legacy.  
 
In 1977, while teaching in Fort Wayne, Dowdell-Underwood made history as the first African American Indiana Teacher of the Year and Indiana's Nominee for National Teacher of the Year. Since then, he has taught at every level of education, spanning from elementary school to American colleges and universities.
 
During his more than 40 years of teaching in school and church settings, Dowdell-Underwood has upheld a commitment to a high standard of excellence with a proven track record. In 1982, he left a career in suburban education to become Principal at Ralph J. Bunche Elementary School in Fort Wayne, a struggling, low-income, 98-percent African-American, inner-city school. Within two years of implementing what is known as the "Underwood Model," student achievement test scores rose to unprecedented levels among every grade level in the school’s history.
Portrait of Leticia Starks-Underwood.
In 1998, Dowdell-Underwood appeared before the United States Congressional Committee on Small Businesses to testify concerning his teaching methods and philosophy of education, specifically in urban settings. He is affectionately known as the “Father of Possibility Education Awareness” and the “Father of the science and study of Possibleology.” For those who don’t know, Possibleology encourages all individuals to challenge any limitations on their potential by seeing the possibilities God has placed within them, whether in education or in life. Dowdell-Underwood’s Possibilistic Methods are designed to mirror what he calls God’s Law of Possibility, “that all things are possible to Him who believe (Mark 9:23).” This endows each person with perceptions of “mattering” that empower them to not only to succeed in academics, but also in life.
 
Over the years, Dowdell-Underwood has been educating not only students, but also adults in this mindset of God-given potential. In 1990, he left his position as a principal at Ralph J. Bunche Elementary to found the first Christian College Preparatory School in the state of Indiana right here in Fort Wayne, known as Cornerstone Christian College Prep Day and High School International (C-Prep). As the Founder, Headmaster, Superintendent of this school, Dowdell-Underwood designed it on the conviction that all students can learn and understand that they “matter,” which underpins academic success. It is now an alternative to traditional public and private school education, that not only prepares its students for global competitiveness in academics, but also “nurtures the whole child.”
 
A few notable achievements of this school are: 0 percent of its students are involved in the judicial system, acts of violence, or drugs. It has a 99 percent graduation rate, and 100 percent of its graduates have been accepted to a college or university with a 70.1 percent college retention rate.
 
To this day, he is still unlocking potential and developing the next global leaders at C-Prep. He continues to be a sought-after conference speaker and educational consultant around the world while still teaching his Possibilistic Methods here in Fort Wayne.
 Leticia Starks-Underwood and her husband, who is the grandson of Dr. Dowdell-Underwood.
He is also the Founder and Senior Pastor of The Destiny Dome Embassy at Cathedral of Praise Ministries International in Fort Wayne, as well as the author of more than 35 books.
 
In the Fall of 2018, he received the Claes Nobel Educator of Distinction Award for these achievements from the National Society of High School Scholars. But more than anything, on a personal note, my grandfather’s legacy inspires me and so many others to keep God first, to be excellent in all that we do, to face every obstacle with a possibilistic mindset, and to pass hope around by making the difference God created us to make.
 
Let’s celebrate and honor history like this in Fort Wayne more often.